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Honda XR650L Project Bike Ride Report

Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Honda XR650L
The Honda will plow through plenty of snow but every bike has a limit. The Kings tires were fine for dirt riding and the Pro Moto Billet cargo rack was handy for pulling and lifting the XR out of trouble.
Getting home from a trip last Friday, I found that my weekend plans fell completely through and was left sitting in an empty house with two days of freedom in front of me. Fortunately, some longtime friends had rented a Forest Service cabin and I had just brought our 2009 Honda XR650L Project Bike home to do some tire testing. It didn’t take long for my brain to put the two together and it was off to the store for an Oregon Atlas & Gazetteer (best 20 bucks ever spent!) and a card to drop by my folks’ place on Mother’s Day.

The loop was laid out, bag/tent strapped to the sturdy Pro Moto Billet Rack-It cargo rack and I was off. With a Clarke tank it was supposed to be good for upwards of 150 miles. However, after running into snow repeatedly and having to work through random drifts I wasn’t able to get as much mileage from it. As a matter of fact, I ran out just under three miles from a fuel station with the odometer at 127. Thankfully it coasted to a stop in the driveway of a generous local man who gave me a quick splash free of charge. Thank you, Dick, whoever you are. Riding pavement on the final fumes, the Honda managed over 15 miles on reserve.

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2009 Honda XR650L Adventure Bike Project Update Video
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See the progress so far on our budget ADV bike in the 2009 Honda XR650L Adventure Bike Project Update Video.
We used a Kings KT-9662 front tire and Kings KT-9661 rear tire. In the dirt these were both pretty dang good for an affordable dual sport tire. The rear is definitely better than the front. The 21-inch hoop squirms under braking and is pretty vague feeling. Traction from the 18-inch rear tire is great for dirt roads with consistent sliding on acceleration and braking. Both were surprisingly good in the soft snow and I was able to plow through nearly two feet - often comfortable keeping feet on the pegs in shallower sections. I’d have no problem running these for dirt only, but the pavement is a different story. When it was dry I could handle the front, which felt strange, but never actually did anything bad. However, it rained buckets on the way home and it was one of the more terrifying two-wheeled experiences of my life. Highway 227 is a great motorcycle road for all the right reasons, but those wet twists and turns had my butt puckered the entire way. Both tires have no side grip and the front moves around so badly it feels flat, regardless of the 15 psi. I actually got off and checked. I’ve ridden non-DOT knobbies on pavement with more confidence. For fire roads and trails this is a good combo, and it will work fine as a summer set. Just stay out of the rain.

All considered the bike was almost perfect for this particular outing. I didn’t have the windscreen installed and that was a bummer on the pavement, especially with an icy rain on Sunday, but everything else I liked. The modifications have made it much more comfortable to ride and safer to boot. (Read the full list of aftermarket components in the 2009 Honda XR650L Adventure Bike Project Update.) The cockpit is more open and the stock seat is unbelievably good. Pivot Pegz are one of my new favorite things. When sitting they feel completely natural. Standing on them takes a bit to get used to but I was able to adapt quickly and now I prefer them. The platform is nice and wide with sharp teeth and the pivot feature helped my feet stay in contact regardless of body position.

Precision Concepts did a good job with the suspension. I didn’t get to take the 650 on any tight or technical trails, but the roads were all handled easily including potholes and the occasional sunken grade. Several times I was surprised at how little was transferred to the rider. Combined with the seat it’s a cushy ride. Engine torque is great and the FMF pipe and jetting have it running clean, but gearing is off. The gap between each cog is a bit stretched out for my taste, particularly from first to second because first gear is really low. Sixth is extra tall and the 650 didn’t want to pull it at times with a headwind. The engine is a short-shifter so I’d probably add a tooth or two on the rear sprocket and make it a little more usable bogging around from second gear on up. One upside of the gearing is that it’s fun and simple to drop a gear on the fire roads and back it into corners.

I piled on right around 200 miles and only wish I had more weekends like this to enjoy dual sporting. Any bike that makes a rider want to escape civilization is doing something right. One of the best things about the Honda is its proven reliability. The air-cooled engine will run forever, takes virtually no maintenance and the general design hasn’t changed in forever. Even though our 2009 was a new machine, the point of using it for this project was that it represents a lot of left-over bikes on dealership floors, and these are a wonderful option for riders buying used machines. It provides a lot of value for a budget adventure bike.
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